Saturday, 13 December 2014

Coombe Estate - famous for more than just its connection to Dame Nellie Melba!

Coombe which opened in mid 2004 is a new winery located on the Melba Estate at Coldstream in the Yarra Valley. The property was previously home to Australia's greatest opera singer Dame Nellie Melba and has been hidden behind a huge cypress hedge. .  

Cellar door area / tack room

Dame Nellie is known as one of the most famous singers in the world in the early 20th century. Born in 1861 in Richmond, a suburb of Melbourne, Dame Nellie moved to Paris and became a Prima donna of the opera famous in  Australia, England, Europe and the US. She travelled the world during her career and the small museum/ art gallery at Coombe contains some memorabilia including her Louis Vuitton trunks.

The Estate has been significantly refurbished by Dame Nellie's great grandsons the Honourable Mark Vestey and Lord Samuel Vestey. They've done a fantastic job converting old buildings into modern facilities whilst still retaining a sense of charm and history. The cellar door area was previously the tack room, the gift shop the stables and the restaurant the motor home where Dame Nellie kept her cars including a Rolls Royce.

View into the restaurant

The restaurant uses a range of local produce from the property and features dishes like Peach Melba and  Melba. 

Outside the restaurant / motor home

Restaurant's rear glass conservatory

The Estate has 7 acres of gardens and you can take a garden tour for $25. Tours are conducted at 10 and 2 each day from Monday to Saturday. Morning or afternoon tea with amazing scones, jam and cream is included. Bookings are essential.

The homestead is maintained for family use but the Garden Tours circle the exterior. Information on the garden design is supplemented by stories of Dame Nellie and how she relaxed and entertained friends and dignitaries at the Estate.

Apparently Charlie Chaplin even stayed at the Estate and swam in the pool. The view from the pool to nearby mountains was amazing.

Its certainly worthwhile visiting Coombe to taste the wines, to eat in the restaurant or even just to take a tour of the gardens and enjoy morning/afternoon tea. 

Our 1 day Yarra Valley Tour can be modified to include a visit to Coombe.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Bay of Islands

The Bay of Islands Coastal Park is a narrow strip approx 32 kilometres long and located between Peterborough, at the western end of the Great Ocean Road, and stretches to Warrnambool further west.  

The town of Warrnambool was settled by the Europeans in the 1840s and Port Campbell in the 1870s. With European settlement came the ships that supplied the area and the treacherous coast caused many shipwrecks.

Amongst these the schooner 'Young Australia' in 1877 was driven ashore at Curdies Inlet after receiving damage to its fore-top mast at Cape Nelson during inclement weather. No lives were lost. 

In 1908 the 'Falls of Halladale', a 4 mastered iron barque built in Scotland, was wedged between two reefs at Halladale Point when the captain's judgment was impaired by heavy fog.

The Coastal Park, like nearby Port Campbell National Park, has sheer limestone cliffs and offshore islands. This fascinating coastline developed millions of year's ago when tiny marine animal skeletons built up beneath the sea and formed the soft limestone which was then eroded by the wild seas and winds of the Southern Ocean sculpting the limestone into the shapes we see today. Its a popular area for photography particularly at sunset and far less crowded than the 12 Apostles area.

The wild Southern Ocean also provided a wealth of resources for Kirrae Whurrong people, the traditional owners of the area. Evidence of their habitation of the area over thousands of years such as blackened shells (shell middens), scraping tools and other small artefacts, remain as indicators of a healthy and diverse diet.The Kirrae Whurrong continue to live in this area celebrating their traditional physical and spiritual connections. 

Lookout areas are located at the Bay of Martyrs, the Bay of Islands, Three Mile Beach and Childers Cove.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Wineries of the Mornington Peninsula

Having toured in the Yarra Valley regularly over the last 5 years we decided to venture into the Mornington Peninsula - another fabulous wine region in Victoria. The objective was to explore mixing this wonderful region with our special penguin tour on Phillip Island. 

We turned off the highway at the Arthurs Seat exit and drove through the clouds to stop at Murray's Lookout. It was a misty morning so we didn't experience the panoramic views but we still got the feeling that we were standing on top of the world.

From the summit of Arthurs Seat its a short walk to visit the monument dedicated to Matthew Flinders, the  English navigator and cartographer, who was the first to circumnavigate Australia. He stood on this spot in 1802 and no doubt the view he experienced as he gazed across Port Phillip Bay was very different to the one we saw today.

We next headed to Port Phillip Estate and as we drove into the parking area we were struck by the stunning architectural design of their building which reminded us of TarraWarra Estate in the Yarra Valley. We later found they were both designed by the same architects.

Port Phillip Estate

The staff here were fantastic, making us feel at home as soon as we arrived. They provided comprehensive insights into their wines and enthusiastically recommended other wineries in the region.

Cellar door at Port Phillip Estate

There's a casual cafe in the cellar door area or the dining room which Gourmet Traveller described as one of Australia's top 100 dining experiences. You'll need to check opening times as they're not open every day of the week.

The views from the outdoor area were breathtaking.

Next we visited Red Hill Estate where again we were treated more like good friends than first time visitors. 

Consistently rated as a 5 Star Winery by the James Halliday Australian Wine Companion the wines here are a testament to why.  Co located with the winery is Max's Restaurant where you can enjoy a high quality dining experience showcasing local produce and wines. 

The panoramic views of Western Port Bay from Red Hill Estate are reputed to be the best in the region. On a clear day you can even see Phillip Island where our new tour will end at the famous penguin parade.

Next we visit Tucks Ridge which has produced a number of James Hallidays' top rated Pinot Noir and Chardonnays in recent years.

Tucks Ridge Cafe is open every day and Saturday night and offers a relaxed dining experience and some great lunch time specials.

We headed to Montalto Vineyard and Olive Grove  for lunch as the Piazza Cafe is open on the weekend. We enjoyed gourmet pizzas sitting in the glorious sunshine amongst the terraced herb garden. The food was great and reasonably priced.

Besides the Piazza Cafe there is a a Restaurant which has won 11 chefs hats from the Age Good Food guide since 2002.  

Montalto sells a range of wines from $15 to $65 a bottle. The winery also has more than 20 permanent sculptures and awards an annual art prize. 

Having heard so much about Ten Minutes by Tractor we had to visit to check out whether the reality was as good as the hype. We were not disappointed.

The name comes from 3 vineyards which are all 10 minutes apart by tractor! They have single vineyard wines and  regional 10x wines and the restaurant has 2 stars in the Gourmet Traveller Restaurant Guide. It has an innovative menu using local produce and is very popular so bookings are a must.

Our last stop was T'Gallant which was extremely busy and had live music on the balcony. Everyone was enjoying the food, wine and entertainment but we reluctantly had to leave to head for home.

If you haven't been to the Mornington Peninsula we suggest you head there and enjoy the wineries and some of the local produce that's on offer.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Eurobodella Regional Botanical Gardens

A short drive from Batemans Bay the Eurobodella Regional Botanical Gardens are a great way to spend a couple of hours. Entry is free and the Gardens are a wonderful combination of natural bushland and manicured gardens. The gardens are set up to allow wheelchair and pram access which makes it a great place for everyone to visit. 

You can enjoy a range of walks from easy to medium with the longest around 2 kilometres. There's a forest walk track which wanders through natural bushland and along the edge of a weir. 

Forest Track

A kangaroo in full flight

The weir

The Aboriginal Heritage Walk was interesting and educational. As an example the black wattle (bidhudhu) signalled  that the blackfish would be biting. Like many ancient cultures they used plants as medicine and food. and from what we've learnt about aboriginal culture and their love and care of country (the land) we think they have always been amazing environmentalists.

Black Wattle

Bird life was amazing: we heard lots and saw a range of the birds they mention are in the gardens. 


We ended our visit enjoying a coffee at the cafe where this bird paid us a visit.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Potato Point isolated beach, wildlife and much more than the name suggests!

Potato Point is located on the South Coast of New South Wales a 6 kilometre drive from the town of Bodalla which is famous for its cheese. 

Surrounded by the Eurobodalla National Park, Potato Point is a fairly isolated spot mainly populated by wildlife and holiday homes.

Kangaroos grazing on the beach front

There are a number of small beaches were you can enjoy an isolated walk, surf, fish or swim. We stayed at an eco friendly caravan park right on the beach which was solar powered and provided wood so we could light a fire in the fireplaces scattered throughout the park.

Friendly kanagroos grazed on the beach front and in the grasslands, no doubt moving back into the shelter of the National Park in the night.

You can take a long walk along the beach at the front of the caravan park to an inlet overlooking Tuross Head which is much larger as around 2,200 people live. There are fantastic views from this point across to the nearby mountains.

The August days were sunny but it was freezing at night so a fire was welcome!

We were lucky to spy a pod of dolphins frolicking in the ocean near our camp site and kookaburras also came to visit which topped off a short stay in this lovely location.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Tower Hill - inactive volcano

Tower Hill is an inactive volcano located south west of Melbourne a short distance from Warrnambool and Port Fairy.  The area was originally inhabited by the Koroitgundidj people who lived in the area of Tower Hill since before recorded history.

Tower Hill

More than 30,000 years ago violent explosions formed the shallow crater where the lake lies and further eruptions created the islands and cone shaped hills that now house the Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve.

Artefacts found in the volcanic ash prove the Koroitgundidj people lived there at the time of the explosion. After the explosion the fertile soils produced a diverse range of vegetation including Manna Gum, Blackwood, Black Wattle, Swamp Gum and Drooping Sheoak. The area was rich with birds and wildlife.


In 1802 French explorer Captain Baudin led the first confirmed sighting of Tower Hill by Europeans. Following European settlement much of the vegetation was cleared for farming and quarrying.  In 1892 Tower Hill became Victoria's first National Park but environmental damage still continued until it was made a Game Reserve in 1961.

The view painted in 1855 by Eugene von Guerard

In 1961 revegetation of the area began using an 1855 painting by Eugene von Guerard.  Much of the wetlands dry up during drought times but today the area is once again rich with bird life and wildlife making it a great place to visit and take nature walks.

Worn Gundidj Visitor Centre

The visitor centre is operated by Worn Gundidj which was founded in 1992 as a not for profit organisation to foster traditional art and nature based tourism. At the visitor centre you can enjoy the cultural displays and buy Authentic Aboriginal Products. 

The centre is open Monday to Friday 9.00 am - 5.00 pm and weekends and public holidays 10.00 am - 4.00 pm.

You can also do a self guided walks in Tower Hill or join a range of tours conducted by the traditional owners. 

We also do a 4 day Indigenous Tour which includes Tower Hill

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Torquay - the gateway to the Great Ocean Road

Torquay, originally know as Spring Creek, is a popular seaside town with holiday makers and one of the great surfing beaches found along the Great Ocean Road.  Its popularity stems from its close proximity and ease of access to Melbourne which improved substantially in recent years with the opening of the Geelong Ring Road.

Early morning near the Surf Life Savings Club

The area was originally occupied by the Wathaurong people for more than 40,000 years before white settlement occurred around 1871.  It was bountiful country for the Wathaurong with shellfish, mussels and oysters available all year round on the coastline and the grasslands inland providing significant grazing animals for hunting.

The Europeans modelled the beach front on European beaches with grass park lands and trees lining the beach.

Front beach Torquay

This area remains popular with families today with BBQ's, outdoor showers and toilets all available.

The Joseph Scammell was shipwrecked on the reef at Point Danger in 1891. Everyone was rescued from the ship but much of its cargo was looted by locals. Its anchor lay in the ocean for more than 80 years before being recovered and is now on display in the park at Front Beach.

The  Torquay Surf Life Savings Club opened in 1946 and is considered to be the oldest and largest club in Victoria. These clubs and their dedicated members play an important part in Australian seaside towns patrolling beaches, rescuing people in trouble and forming a social hub for the Community.

Torquay is one of the busiest beaches in Victoria and club members patrol the beach for more than 3,000 hours and perform between 20 and 30 rescues each year.  On weekends in the summer you'll find Nippers (young children) being trained on the beach, its a great sight as it means the next generation of life savers are being formed.

Torquay has grown substantially and now has a number of golf courses and hotels including the newly opened RACV Torquay Resort.   The Resort has accommodation,  a range of restaurants, a day spa and the Torquay Golf Club. 

RACV Torquay Golf Club

Peppers adjacent to the Sands Golf Resort also has a golf course, accommodation, a day spa and restaurant. The Whynham Resort is located at Zeally Bay Beach Torquay and also has a range of facilities.

If camping or caravanning is your holiday of choice these are well catered for at Torquay with Barwon Caravan ParkTorquay Holiday Park and Torquay Caravan Park.

Torquay has a range of restaurants, cafes and shops including a large and popular range of surf clothing outlets at Surf City Plaza. 

1 day Great Ocean Road Tour

2 day Great Ocean Road Tour

3 day Great Ocean Road Tour

4 day Melbourne to Adelaide Tour